Often denigrated and lauded in equal measure, Charles Gayle is perhaps the most iconoclastic jazz musician of the 90's. His penchant for fundamentalist-grounded religious diatribes and earlier bouts with homelessness frequently garner as much press as his monolithic musical prowess. He is a master at inciting both heated vocal reaction and awe-struck, gaping stares among his listeners. Thankfully on most of his recordings his controversial personal behaviors are submerged and his music is left to speak volumes for itself. Such is definitely the case on this recent FMP release, a studio session waxed days after the live Ayler tribute, Berlin Movement Future Years (also on FMP) in the summer of 1993. Abiding Variations deviates sharply from its predecessor. Rather than simply revisiting the unrelenting sonic blitzkrieg that made Years so enigmatic and frustrating Gayle steers his trio into far more variegated realms of improvisation. Ayler's ghostly visage still smiles on the music but the end result is more akin to Gayle's classic Touchin' On Trane in the level of creative discourse that transpires. In addition, Gayle curiously chooses to circumvent the Biblical mysticism that informs much of his other work (in the monikers he attaches to his compositions) relying on a numerical series to distinguish pieces instead of his usual religious imagery.
Much of the material is anchored in recognizably Ayleresque melodic cores. Gayle expertly employs these fragments as pulpits for the intricately structured swathes of sound that blast forth from his seraphic saxophone. Cherry and Wimberly strive admirably to match his inventions and sculpt a spacious rhythmic landscape punctuated by solo contributions of their own. As is typical, Gayle's bass clarinet is given less girth than his tenor, but his creations on the deeper reed deliver an equal level of intrigue. Portions of the Variations even hint at tempered lyricism. A kinder, gentler Gayle, hardly. There's still plenty of reed-rending intensity to savor and juxtaposed with the quieter moments his salvos of register leaping squeals are even more striking. This is a disc to seek out and delve into at length, even if your inclination is to dismiss Gayle as a fringe-dwelling fanatic and proselytizer. Regardless of the man's personal convictions, his tireless commitment to his music is unassailable.